The curtains opens to 1920’s Paris in director James Hurley’s take on Puccini’s take of the La Traviata tale and with the backdrop of Leslie Travers rich and glamorous set, suitably illuminated by Paule Constable and Ben Pickersgill, we meet Magda (Galina Averina), the mistress of a wealthy banker, Rambaldo (Philip Smith), but when the poet Prunier (Elgan Llŷr Thomas) reads her palm and predicts that like la rondine – the swallow – she will travel south in her pursuit of happiness, the die is cast for what is to come. When she meets the young Ruggero (Sebastien Guèze), glamour soon turns to decadence as she follows him to the nightclub Bulliers where they fall in love and decide to run away to the south of France, and with Prunier equally smitten with Magda’s maid, Lisette (Claire Lees), they find themselves heading in a similar direction too.
Delightfully sung in Italian and with English surtitles, could we be looking at love’s young dreams? Are we due a happy ending? Well, it is Puccini so maybe…
Averina, making her Opera North debut, has generated much positive feedback from her earlier tour performances complementing both her acting and singing. When she could be heard tonight I would echo those sentiments but too often she was either subdued on stage for reasons unknown or overwhelmed by the orchestra which was a shame. Whilst Guèze captured the brooding intensity of the young lover with both his acting and singing, his performance tinged full of emotion when matters begin to unravel, there was a lack of chemistry between the two main stars which undermined the credibility of the story that so rapidly evolves.
Llŷr Thomas in contrast was rich in tone delivering a superb all-round performance which made you just want to see and hear more of him, whilst Lees offered the perfect foil to his rapier wit with an effervescent display befitting the role and generating a believable energy between them.
Smith was suitably steadfast and above it all, knowing that the bird was always likely to return to its nest, whilst gusto was added to the opening proceedings by Magda’s best friends Yvette (Pasquale Orchard), Bianca (Kathryn Sharpe), and Suzy (Laura Kelly-McInroy) with everyone appropriately costumed for the period and setting by Gabrielle Dalton.
Equally at their best under the stewardship of Anthony Kraus was the Chorus of Opera North who excelled themselves in Act Two in what I would consider one of their best performances. Similarly impressive was the orchestra who were skilfully steered through the all-round frivolity and high emotion replete with lush orchestration and sweeping melodies by conductor Kerem Hasan, before sullen mood and angst are reflected in the closing love duets.
Choreographer Lauren Poulton has been able to run riot with an accomplished dance troupe (James Aiden Kay, Rose Eileen Lewis, Ruby Portus, Ben Yorke-Griffiths, Jonny Aubrey-Bentley, Erica Mulkern) taking on waltzes, foxtrots, polkas and the tango, whilst a similarly clockwork efficiency was demonstrated by Stage Manager Kate Freston-Davy and her team with the synchronised set adaptations throughout the evening that were enjoyable to see executed.
This was the third and final part of the company’s Green Season which has involved the intelligent recycling and re-purposing of costume, set, and prop although it was less evident tonight than with the other two productions.
La rondine is one of three productions touring this season for Opera North, further details at https://www.operanorth.co.uk/whats-on
The Lowry is a theatre and gallery complex at Salford Quays with a wide creative offering, further details https://thelowry.com/whats-on/
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 17th November 2023
North West End UK Rating: